Google owns close to 100-percent market share in the search engine wars because it’s the best at helping us find what we’re looking for. While it’s the best, it still has room for improvement. Google is a great company with smart people, so they recognize their product is not perfect. To date, Google hasn’t moved rapidly to fix
these imperfections, primarily because their competition hasn’t forced them to. Can one blame them for not wanting to tinker with something that continues to gain market share?
However, in the last year, Google has properly recognized that their stiffest competition in the future will most likely not come from MSN or Yahoo, but rather from Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter and other social media.
If you search for someone famous or something factual, a Wikipedia page is likely the top result. That’s why more people go straight to Wikipedia or use tools such as Powerset.
After performing a Google search for a product or service, you’re bombarded with advertisements all touting the same thing in 35 characters or less — cheapest fares! best value! lowest price guaranteed! — with the top advertising placements going to those that generate the most revenue over the long term for Google rather than the most relevant personal result for you.
Everyone receiving the same search results is analogous to going to Nordstrom to buy a dress and the sales clerk offering you selections without determining what size you are.
Going back to search, let’s say that we’re in the market to purchase a baby seat for our newborn. Do we care more about what our friends recommend to check out, or what Google recommends? Most respect their friends’ opinions about products more than the Google algorithm. If this isn’t the case, you need new friends.
This means there’s plenty of opportunity for Facebook. They already have the technology (Facebook Beacon) to track user purchases on Websites outside of Facebook (Beacon can track books I purchase on Amazon.com, for example).
As a user, it’s much more helpful for me to see a list of results of what baby seats my friends purchased, how much they paid, and what their reviews are, combined with supplier ads (think Google sponsored ad listings) than the Google results today — results that don’t have anything about what my friends think.
If Facebook can cobble the good technology they already have (Connect, Beacon, etc.) and assuage privacy concerns, then they could literally steal billions of dollars in revenue from Google.
Google recognized this deficiency and launched Google SearchWiki, which enables users with Google accounts (Gmail, Google analytics, etc.) to rate and comment on the search results. Users also have the ability to see other users’ comments around a certain search listing. This is a significant step for Google into the social media space. Some pundits guess that Google will capture this user generated data and adjust their organic ratings based on what the public feels should be number one rather than Googlebot.
Mircroblogging tools like Twitter also capture Google’s interest since it seems possible that users may “tweet” “Having issues setting up my Apple TV, please help!” This frustrated user would receive suggestions from friends, be contacted by Apple Support, and also receive pay-per-click messages from manufacturers with products for the Apple TV. Just like in Google SearchWiki someone on Twitter would be able to give the responses “a thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but in the end, this technology arms race and increased competition greatly benefits users and advertisers.